Sunday, 12 February 2012

Marina/Marinos of Alexandria 12/02

Marinos was one of a group of saints we might describe as transmen, biologically female but who lived as male monks in men's monasteries. Some of these are known only by name, some of the stories may be variations of the same person's story under different names, but that of Mary / Marinos, also known as Pelagia, is one of the most completely  known.

The story as we have it, is that Mary was an only child from the north of Lebanon, raised after her father's death by her widowed father, Eugene. Once Mary had grown up, Eugene told her that he would pass over to her all his possessions, as he wished to enter a monastery, for the sake of his soul. Mary was not happy with this, as she too was concerned for her own soul. So they agreed that Mary would cut her hair and adopt male clothing, so that she could pass as male, and enter the monastery together with her father. This they did, joining a monastery in Alexandria, Egypt, from which she takes her name. Inside the monastery, where the two shared a cell, the other monks noticed the higher pitched voice and smooth skin of their new brother (now known as Marinos), but assumed that either he was a eunuch, or that this was a special mark of the holiness they all saw in him.
Marina (in red) being brought to a monastery by her father Eugenius.
(14th century French manuscript).

In time, Marinos' father died, and he responded by increasing still further his ascetic manner of life. The abbot called him one day, and referring to his great holiness, sent him out in the company of a few others on monastic business, where they needed to spend one night in a public inn. The innkeeper had a daughter who set her sights on seducing the attractive Marinos, without success. She had however already been made pregnant by another (either one of the monks, or by a passing soldier – the sources diverge). When she realized she was with child, to protect herself she accused the innocent Marinos.
As he was biologically female, he quite obviously could not have been the father, but he could not have disclosed this without revealing himself, which he refused to do. So, he made no attempt to deny the charge, and accepted responsibility. He was expelled from the monastery, and thereafter lived as a beggar in the open air outside the monastery door. When the child was born, the innkeeper brought it to the monastery, and left it with Marinos, supposedly the product of his alleged sin. Thereafter, Marinus raised the boy as his own, living among the shepherds from whom he was able to obtain milk for the child.

After a few years, his fellow monks grew sorry for the two of them, and persuaded the abbot to readmit him to the monastery, where he was given only the most degrading chores, and where he continued to care for the child – who himself grew up to be a monk.

Worn out by hard labour, Marinus died. The abbot instructed the monks to wash the body and lay it out for burial – and only then discovered that their monastic “brother” had all along been biologically a woman, and quite obviously not responsible for the seduction of the innkeeper’s daughter. Confronted with this, she finally confessed the truth, and was said to have been healed of a long affliction that had tormented her ever since her false accusation. It is furthermore recorded that the monks all received various blessing, and one who had been blind in one eye, received sight in both.

Marinos is venerated by the Maronite Church and by the Coptic Orthodox Church, with a feast day on February 12th (The legend was sometimes confused with that of Saint Pelagia, "Pelagia" being a Greek translation of the Latin-derived name Marina, or Mary).

Saint Mary of Alexandria, also known as Marinos  (Mystogogy, quoting Saint Symeon Metaphrastes)
Saint Mary of Alexandria (Lives of the Saints, Coptic Place)
Marina the monk (Wikipedia)

Select bibliography on Trans Saints

Anson, J., "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: the Origin and Development of a Motif", Viator 5 (1974), 1-32

Bennasser, Khalifa Abubakr, Gender and Sanctity in Early Byzantine Monasticism: A Study of the Phenomenon of Female Ascetics in Male Monastic Habit with a Translation of the Life of St. Matrona, [Rutgers Ph.D Dissertation 1984; UMI 8424085]

O'Neill, DenisPassionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People

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